Political Views in Education

I haven’t written a blog post in a long time and I’m not sure why this is the topic that finally got me to write something again…It’s hardly even about education!  Oh well…Here we go!

As a teacher and now an administrator I’ve always held my political views very close to me in an effort to not influence my students, show a bias, or be judged by co-workers. Those that know me well know that I have very strong political beliefs. I have shed tears over politics.  It has been very hard to keep my political beliefs to myself over the years.  There is a lot of pressure on educators to keep political beliefs to themselves and also a lot of confusion as to what rights educators have when it comes to expressing their personal beliefs.  I completely understand the influence and voice we have as educators and why we have to have an awareness of our political voice and its reach.  While I understand it, I still don’t like it.

As a teacher I took pride in my ability to hide my political beliefs from my students so as not to influence their beliefs.  If I hadn’t made a conscious effort to be neutral in the classroom, I think I would have shown a bias and that’s not what I wanted in my classroom.  As a World and U.S. History teacher for 8 years, politics came up in class constantly during some healthy debates, but I wanted my students to discover their own political beliefs through this process and not be swayed by anything I said.  I’m proud of that.  Students asked me if I was a republican or a democrat….I NEVER told them.  It’s crazy to me that I was able to keep it a mystery from some very intelligent 15 and 16 year olds.  Even now, most of my coworkers have no idea what my political beliefs are.

While others have the freedom to express their thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc., educators do not have that freedom.  I know I have the constitutional freedom, but for the sake of my career and even some friendships at work, I have felt that the smart thing to do is to keep my beliefs as far away from my career as possible.  I love Twitter and all forms of social media, but because I use it professionally, I typically avoid posting personal things, especially when it comes to politics or other hot button issues.  On one shoulder someone is telling me to do the smart and professional thing and keep my political beliefs far away from my career.  The Tim on that shoulder is worried even as I type this and consider posting it as a public blog post.  Will THIS post hurt my career? On the other shoulder is the Tim that tells me to be true to myself and not worry about what other people think.  He’s telling me I have the right to my opinion and the right to express myself.  It’s a tough, ongoing personal debate.

The point of this blog post is not to finally spill my guts and get it all out, revealing my political views to the world, even though that would be so liberating.  I’ve held it all in this long….I’m not gonna crack now.  The point of this post is for me to empathize with others in my industry or in other careers where it’s unofficially frowned upon to share personal political beliefs. This is just something we struggle with as we see people posting political opinions, creating memes, and discussing daily news on Twitter or Instagram, without hesitation.   We are itching to hit the comment button.  Is it right that I suppress my own political beliefs?  I don’t know.  I don’t blame anyone.  It just comes with the territory, I guess.  I’ve come to accept it.  I’ll continue to struggle with this and you’ll continue to wonder what my political beliefs are.  Enjoy!

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How Punk Rock and Hardcore Music Shaped My Teaching Philosophy

The year was 1995. I was a sophomore in high school.  At the time I was really into bands like Rage Against the Machine and Metallica.  I guess I was bit of a metalhead.  Anyways, one day in my spanish class this girl asked me if I wanted to buy her boyfriend’s band’s tape.  She then flashed me a cassette tape under her desk.  The band was called The Skinniez.

The Skinniez

I still have this tape. I haven’t listened to it in about a decade because I don’t have a cassette player, but it’s good stuff.


At the time I had no idea that anyone other than “big” bands had tapes and CDs.  I thought it was so cool that these guys at my school had a tape out.  I bought it for $4 and my life changed forever.

It’s not that The Skinniez music changed my life, although it is a really good demo, it’s the fact that this was my gateway into the world of independent, underground music; the world of punk rock and hardcore music. This scene, and all of it’s associated values and beliefs have molded me into the man I am today.  Just as much as my parents did, the scene raised me.  After reflecting on my teaching philosophy, I can safely say that punk rock and hardcore music directly influence my thinking as a teacher.

When I say punk rock and hardcore, it probably means different things to different people. Depending on your age and your exposure to these types of music, this post may not have as much meaning to you as does to me and others.  With this in mind I will try to explain what I mean so you can see the power that this music scene had on my life.


 

This is a band called Strife in 1995. While many see chaos and violence, and hear noise and screaming, I see fun and unity (and sore necks), and hear passion. The band and the fans were one. Getting to jump on stage and sing along with your favorite band is sort of exclusive to this scene.  It’s pretty awesome and taught me that no one is better than anyone else. 


 

Starting in 1995 I started going to punk rock and hardcore shows.  Growing up in Riverside, CA I frequented places like The Barn and Showcase Theatre.  I feel like I was there almost every weekend.  Within a few months I started my first band, The Beatnix.  This was my life.  At the time it just was what it was.  As a teenager I never really reflected on my own beliefs and values.  Those things were still being developed.  While I embraced the punk rock attitude and looked like a “hoodlum” (my grandma’s description of me in high school), I remained a decent student and was accepted to UC Riverside.  While in college I still went to shows and was still playing in various bands.  This was my life.  It was me.

The point of this post is not to recall my youth, but to reflect on how the punk rock and hardcore scene influenced me and shaped my teaching philosophy…

D.I.Y. – The punk rock community is a very Do-It-Yourself community.  When we were in bands we made our own Tapes/CDs, our own flyers, our own t-shirts.  Everything we did, we created on our own.  This creativity is evident in my life today and shows in my lesson design and just my overall classroom environment.  I just do things a little differently and I take pride in this risk taking.  I guess I’m just a bit Out Of Step.

OutOfStep

Embracing Our Differences – The punk rock community taught me at a young age how disgusting racism was.  There is a major part of the scene that strives to end social injustice.  While I also learned these values from my parents, the scene engrained these beliefs into my head.  Being accepting of different races and sexual preferences is a theme that you can find throughout the punk rock and hardcore community.  As a teacher, many current events we discuss are about these themes.  My passion for teaching tolerance and erasing ignorance in the world is just as strong as my passion for teaching history.  These lessons need to be taught.

endracism

Questioning Everything – While the punk rock and hardcore community have many different sub-genres, a constant among all of them is to think for yourself and question things.  Punk rockers question the establishment, authority, the government, all kinds of things.  Some of them do it the wrong way and it turns into more of an anti-establishment, or anti-government type things, but many simply question things before accepting them.  Many punk rockers are very educated people.  Greg Graffin, singer of Bad Religion holds a PhD and is a professor at UCLA.  Dexter Holland of The Offspring was valedictorian of his high school.  Our scene is definitely not anti-education. I believe that questioning things, wanting to hear multiple sides, and avoiding bias is crucial when making informed decisions.  Whether it is national politics, or debates about the Common Core.  I don’t just accept the decisions others make.  If I have an opinion I will let it be known.  If I have an idea I will let it be heard.  No matter how outside of the box it may be.  This critical and creative thinking is what we expect from our students.  I practice what I preach.

enlightened             critical thinking

Maintaining a Positive Attitude – Shortly after getting into punk rock and then discovering hardcore bands like 7 Seconds, Bad Brains and Minor Threat, the metalhead in me found the hardcore scene of the mid-90s that those bands inspired awesome.  Bands like Earth Crisis, Strife, Snapcase were the new breed of hardcore bands.  The sound had evolved, but messages of positivity and unity were common among the hardcore scene.  Even today, bands like The Ghost Inside and Stick To Your Guns continue to spread PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). Toby Morse, singer of hardcore band H2O, even speaks to schools about how he has maintained a positive, drug-free lifestyle while being in a touring band for over 20 years.  The hardcore scene spawned the Straight Edge movement that embraces an anti-drug lifestyle, influencing young kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol.  This scene helps them avoid the peer pressure.  The positive aspects of the hardcore scene are so inspiring and I try to inspire my students to stay positive and do good things for people and the world on a daily basis.

Bad Brains - "We got that PMA!"

  Bad Brains – “We got that PMA!”pma

 

I’m 34 years old and I no longer look like a hoodlum (well, maybe on weekends).  However, as stated above, punk rock and hardcore music have made me who I am today.  The way I approach and view the world of education is through my lens.  The lens molded by the scene I grew up in.  The scene I’m still a part of.  I will always be a part of this scene.  This is my life. It is who I am.


 

I still love going to shows and while I stand in the back now and let the kids have all of the fun, I still get goosebumps when I see the passion and sense of community that exists in the scene.  This video from a great band called The Story So Far in 2012 doesn’t look all that different from the above Strife video from 1995. The energy and passion in that room gives me goosebumps every time I watch it.


Our experiences shape who we are.  It’s been fun reflecting and reminiscing.

Thanks for reading.

 

The Dark Side

I’ve been to the DARK SIDE…and then came back to tell the tale.

In education, many people refer to making the jump from teacher to administrator as “going to the DARK SIDE.”  I suppose it stems from Star Wars, which features the DARK SIDE as the opposite of the world of Jedi.  Apparently it’s an evil world. Why is school administration considered the evil side of education?  I recently spent a few months over in the DARK SIDE, and it is dark!  However, it is dark in a good way! Confused? Just keep reading.

Over the past few years I have been working towards moving into administration.  My passion for teaching history has sort of morphed into a passion for education in general, and I want to be able to have an opportunity to make education better for more than just 180 students each year.  Therefore, moving into administration is my current goal.  I recently spent a few months as a Teacher on Special Assignment, filling in for our Assistant Principal of Supervision.  This was an amazing opportunity that I was given, and it was also my invitation to the DARK SIDE.  I could tell you stories about my time in the supervision office, and trust me, I have stories, but this isn’t the place.  I’ll just say I loved the experience and it was very rewarding.

Having taught for the past 8 years, my experiences and time spent in the office have been fairly limited.  As teachers, we kind of know what’s going on up there, and we make assumptions about what administrators do every day, but we spend our time in the classroom.  What we think we know about administration is based on snapshots of what we see and emails we receive from admin.  As classroom teachers, we don’t really know what the dark side is.  That’s why it’s dark!

Here is my theory of why school administration IS the DARK SIDE, but in a GOOD WAY.

When people ask me what surprised me the most about becoming an administrator, my answer is always the same… What surprised me most was how much stuff goes on up in the office that teachers have no idea about.  Everyone works very hard making the school run effectively and efficiently.  They put out fires, they collaborate, they think about ways to make the school better, they worry about the nuts and bolts.  They do A LOT.  School administration IS the DARK SIDE because they do all of this while allowing teachers to teach, and not worry about anything other than the success of their students.  It’s dark because it’s unknown, not because it’s evil.  As a teacher I was oblivious to all of the things that administrators and their support staff deal with and I’m kinda glad.  Teachers just want to teach.  Administrators, when doing their job effectively, create a school where teachers get to put all of their efforts into teaching and helping their students.  A good administrator is like Superman, but teachers may only see Clark Kent.  As teachers, we don’t always see what work went into making things happen.  We don’t always see the fires being put out, the passion of administrators working on something to improve the school, or the countless hours of work.  We don’t see that SIDE of education very often. That happens over in the DARK SIDE.  I look forward to my next visit.

 

Grades…What Do They Really Say About a Student?

Let’s say life is like school…In order to move on in life (buy a house, get a new car, have kids, etc) you must do well in all that you do.  You must do really well.  If you want a nice house and good kids you must be the best of the best.  You have to get at least a 4.3.  Are you getting a 4.3 in life? Would your GPA in life really be an indicator of how good, how successful, or how talented of a person you are?

tumblr_m01lp20kSh1qkvx8r

Lets say in the span of nine months you must master the following things (this is a list of things in life that may be as irrelevant to you as some of our subjects are to students).

  • Learn how to drive a big rig
  • Bake red velvet cupcakes from scratch
  • Hit 20 home runs out of 30 pitches
  • “Close” read and analyze the Affordable Care Act

That’s your schedule for the next nine months. At the end you will be given a grade based on how well you do those things.  That grade will help determine your next step in life.  Do well, you get awesome opportunities; Do poorly, and your opportunities will be a little more limited.

Also, there’s no extra credit in life…Can you bring your boss a ream of paper and some kleenex and in return you get a raise and now you can get a Porsche instead of a Nissan?  Can you get a bonus for not going to bathroom more than 4 times? That bonus might be the difference between you getting your first house or not. House or bladder infection? Hmmm?  Do they give pay raises to employees that go to the company softball games? Doubt it.

I understand that we must assess students and give them grades.  But what do those grades really mean in the long run?  What are we actually grading? Knowledge? Behavior and compliance? Skill? Growth? What if (insert subject here) just isn’t their thing? We are giving a grade that determines a lot of what will happen in their future.  Their path in life is affected by the grades we give.  So what do we value? What should we reward?

Just because I couldn’t hit 20 home runs out of 30 pitches (which would be a 66% if it was test), does not mean that I’m not deserving of opportunities in the future.  I really tried! I worked on my swing, but it just didn’t happen.  It’s hard to get that good at baseball when I had to bake cupcakes until I got it right, and then take lessons on driving a big rig.  Parking those big things is tough!  Don’t even get me started on that Obamacare document.  That thing was pretty confusing.  And how come my karate skills weren’t tested.  I’m a black belt, but that didn’t get assessed.  I would’ve really impressed them if they asked me to do a roundhouse kick.  So now I rent a small apartment and drive a ‘94 Nissan Maxima because I wasn’t good at a few things.  But I am good at a lot of other things.  I wish my teachers in the school of life would’ve recognized that.  Now I kind of feel like a failure.

Grades are tricky. As long as colleges continue to look at GPAs, I guess we have to give grades. I hope one day that their formula for determining who gets in changes.  I hope companies like Google, who don’t care about GPA when hiring, influence other companies and eventually colleges to make some changes.  Our value as students, employers, and humans can’t be accurately summed up in points and letter grades.

We have to make sure we see students as individuals and not just an ID number and a name on a class roster.

We have to make sure we see students as individuals and not just an ID number and a name on a class roster.

Another flaw in grades are that they are very subjective.  A student who has me and earns an A might have earned a C if they had been in another teacher’s class.  It all comes down to how a teacher grades and what they value. That differs from teacher to teacher.  This means students are just learning how to play the game of school.  I could go on about the subjectivity of grades, but I’d rather just throw it out there as another thinking point when reflecting on your grading policy.

As you start preparing for next year, look at your grading policy and at least think about what you are grading, why you are grading it, and if it really determines the value of that student.  Just because grades have always been done a certain way and we’ve always been told that a 92% is an A and a 62% is a D doesn’t mean that it’s the right way or the only way.

Where did this come from? Why do we follow it? Are students in your classes you earned a 79% really that much worse than one who got 90%.

Where did this come from? Why do you follow it? Are students in your classes who earned a 79% really that much worse than one who got 90%? Do you have a student who got a 79% that you know is brighter than one who got a 90%? If the answer is Yes…is that right?

Let’s not deprive students of opportunities because their cupcakes suck.  Let them do a few roundhouses and kick that cupcake right off the top of your head.  I’d say that’s just as impressive.

*I’ve been wanting to write a post about grades for a while now. It’s a topic/flaw in education that I feel gets largely ignored when talking about reform efforts. After watching/reading David Theriault’s (@davidtedu) vlog/blog I was inspired to start writing. Check his post out here.

A Letter to My Students

So I sat down the other day and started reflecting on this year.  Before I knew it I was writing a letter to my students.  I tried to be a real and honest and possible.  I’ve been a Twitter regular for a while now and sometimes I feel like the stuff teachers post is a little fake and utopianist.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Posting the positives is much better than posting the negatives.  However, I wanted to be real with my students and now I want to share the realness with you.  While I wish I could have written personalized letters to all 160 students, I just didn’t have the time to do that.  Instead, I wrote this letter to all of my students.  I figured I would post it.  It kind of serves as a reflection on this school year for me.  Enjoy.

CLICK HERE to view the letter…

 

Just Another Blog Post Post About Cell Phones In Class

Here is a fact…Kids are on their phones as much as they can be.  Here is another fact…So are most adults.

As a teacher I have struggled with cell phones policies for the last few years.  I’ve gone from a no phone policy, to no policy at all this year.  I’ve read too many blogs about the subject, written papers on BYOD, debated cell phones as a distraction or a tool with multiple people, and I don’t think I’m any more clear on what the ideal cell phone policy should be in schools.

As I said, I don’t have a cellphone policy in my class.  They are allowed. It’s that simple.  I have asked kids to use judgement as to when using their phone is appropriate and/or rude.  Has it backfired? Sure. I have seen kids texting in class, playing flappy bird, etc. Does this make me a bad teacher for allowing this to happen and not adjusting my cellphone policy?  You can be the judge of that.  Here are some things I wrote in my notebook one day after school.  It is not flowing and is not meant to be.  More of a ramble…

I don’t view students using cellphones in class as a problem.  I think it is just the way it is.  I won’t fight human nature.  Watch adults in your next staff meeting, or attend a grad school program. You will see people checking their emails, texting their spouses or their kids, maybe even playing flappy bird (I’ve seen it).  Just because we are adults and are more mature, have we earned the right to use our phones in situations where it is clearly not encouraged or polite?  I don’t believe that line of thinking.

teacher on phone

The easy solution for a teacher is to fight it and tell kids to put their phones away while in class.  That makes the teacher feel that the kids will not be distracted and will therefore be more engaged in the lesson.  But how long can this strategy survive?  Imagine a not too distant future with smart watches, smart glasses (Google Glass), smart phones, and who knows what else.  Will we require kids to take off all glasses and watches when they enter our rooms?  This is not a Jetsons future.  This is the near future.  Educators need to consider these changes as they reshape their classrooms to meet the needs of new students every year.

While we continue to struggle with the “Do we allow cellphones in class?” questions. While we debate the level of distraction vs. the level of engagement and value cellphones bring, we need to realize that before we end up with an answer based on any research, the questions will all be different. Smartphones are a part, a big part of all of our lives. However, soon we will see people walking around with glasses and watches that all function similarly to our phones in that they provide what are known in school as distractions.  It will happen.  We need to embrace these changes and instead of trying to separate that reality from an outdated vision of a classroom, we need to find a way to optimize the educational experience for the connected kids of the future. We can’t disconnect them from the world between the hours of 8am – 3pm everyday.  Don’t be scared.  You have to leave your comfort zone and take a risk.  The same thing you ask your students to do.  Take a risk and see what the future may look like and then change your teaching to ensure that the technology is used as a tool and not just a distraction.  Will kids be distracted at times? Yes.  Will they talk to other kids in other rooms? Yes.  Will they try to play a game every now and then? Yes. Will they ignore you? Maybe.   Welcome to the future.

 

Jump Outside the Box With Me!

I just spent the last hour writing up some ideas for a LCAP (fun budget stuff) meeting I have coming up this week.  I am part of a team that is looking at student engagement, but not in the way that those words are usually used in a classroom.  The LCAP meaning of student is engagement is looking at attendance, dropout, and graduation rates, and trying to come up with a plan to get students more engaged so they come to school and stay in school.  After brain vomiting on a page for an hour, I was pretty proud of what I came up with.  I also realized it had been way too long since I blogged, so I figured I would share my ramblings as a blog post.

I started off by looking at our districts Strategic Plan, which has some really cool goals that align with my personal goals for education.  I have pasted a few below from the Visionary section and the College/Career Readiness section.

  • Visionary Goal:
    • Become an exemplary model of an educational organization in the state of California
    • Utilize innovative strategies to encourage out-of-the-box thinking and risk-taking
    • Explore options to re-define teaching and learning
    • Identify and apply exemplary models from other schools, districts and businesses to drive improvement
  • College and Career Readiness Goal:
    • Develop rigorous applied experiences for students by leveraging local resources including college/universities, business, and agencies
    • Students complete rigorous college-aligned course of study with seamless transition into a career pathway and/or post-secondary education towards a viable career.

I then wrote a statement that combines the visionary statements into one.

  • If we want to be a model to other districts, we must take risks, be innovative, and think outside the box to re-define education.

This one statement is so powerful.  There is so much involved.  If we want to be a model school district that takes risks and thinks outside of the box, then we can’t do the things the way we have always done them.  We need to get outside that box and start getting creative.  That’s what we preach to our students, right?

outsidethebox

So again, this post is designed to offer some food for thought when it comes to getting students who have poor attendance rates and who are at risk of dropping out to be more engaged, but I think what I offer will benefit the district as a whole and all of the students in it.  Below are some options that I believe will help address student engagement as a larger problem.  Some of the ideas may seem radical to those who rarely question the status quo. But if the district’s visionary goal is to be a model to other districts by utilizing outside of the box thinking, then I don’t feel these are radical or far-fetched at all.  Do they fit in the new budget plan? Who knows. Luckily that’s not my job.  But hopefully these ideas at least make it to the table.

Option: Early College High School – Can we take our alternative ed campus (which isn’t that alternative from what I understand), team up with a community college, and offer an Early College High School?

  • Several serve students who previously dropped out or were unsuccessful in traditional high schools.
  • Nearly 75 percent of students enrolled in early college high schools are African-American or Latino.
  • The majority of students enrolled in early college high schools across the nation will be the first in their family to attend college.
  • Nearly 60 percent of early college high school students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
  • They typically start at 9am or 10am (we should look into this for all schools)
  • Early College High School in Costa Mesa -73% Hispanic and 76% Socioeconomically disadvantaged

Option: Later start times at all of our campuses

  • Cons – Bus schedules, athletic schedules, parent schedules, teacher schedules (I get it, it’ll be a shock to the system)
  • Pros – Abundance of research showing attendance rates, graduation rates, performance, and behavior all improve when school starts later
  • 70% of all high school students do not get enough sleep, which leads to a host of physical and mental conditions
  • It may not be popular among the adults involved (admin, teachers, parents), but the kids are who would benefit and that is all we should be concerned with

sleepinginclass

Option: Re-evaluate our electives and start to offer courses that are more relevant to a 21st century education that gets kids college and career ready

  • Computer Science & Coding Courses NEED to be added as options – 70% of all jobs in CA will be computer based by 2020
  • Classes on Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.  Bosses surveyed always rank these as the top qualities they look for.  Why don’t we have classes dedicated to them instead of trying to infuse them into content that is sometimes irrelevant
  • Photography should be way more focused on digital photography and photo editing
  • Industrial Arts – Wood, Metal, Auto, Power and Energy (with a focus on problem solving)
  • This list could definitely be extended

 

Option: Common Core (the right way)

  • Common Core standards can actually make attendance and dropout rates go in the wrong direction if the wrongs things are emphasized. However, if we focus on the good parts of the Common Core, I think it can help our attendance and graduation rates.
    • Many teachers who are still confused about what the Common Core means for them in their classroom are under the impression that it all boils down to close reading and more writing. Yuck!  If all teachers begin close reading and requiring irrelevant writing assignments across the curriculum, school will not be a desired place to be, especially for at-risk students.
    • We can focus on the 4 C’s of Common Core; Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. Incorporating more Problem/Project Based Learning into our classes will incorporate the 4 C’s, skills that will help them in life, but it also provides opportunities for reading and writing in a way that is more relevant to the student.
    • Teachers need some ongoing differentiated professional development to help them understand how they can create learning opportunities that incorporate the 4 C’s in a relevant and challenging way.  I have been to multiple PD sessions based on Common Core and it has all been about reading and writing, which is an important component of where we are going, but it can’t be all we focus on with the shift to Common Core.
    • We must always remember that our goal is to produce productive, creative, innovative, and intelligent students who can be successful in life, not to just produce students who can score well on the smarter balanced test. We have to make education about much more if we want the students to show up and be engaged.

Like I said earlier, I at least hope that my ideas are heard and considered.  I believe they will help with attendance and graduation rates, but more importantly, I feel that all of these ideas, in general, are a step in the right direction when it comes to rethinking education for students today and in the near future.  The education system is slow to change.  My district is calling for innovation, risk-taking, and outside the box thinking, which to me, means they too desire a change.  I love their vision, hopefully they like mine too.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  – Steve Jobs (Apple Inc.)